From time to time some lady or gentleman who happens to be aware of my views on the whole wretched Treaty industry will express admiration at the depth of my knowledge of the issues. He or she will greet with alarm any suggestion I might make that I have actually grown weary of years of arguments and fights with certain of my fellow citizens and that I would prefer just to go tramping in the hills.
Well, although I would not wish to boast about the depth of my knowledge, often assumed to be much larger than it is, I would modestly have to admit that after many years of rough and tumble hurly-burly I have inevitably picked up a few useful and basic facts. But the thing is, the Treaty arguments which so concern and wrack the nation are mostly not actually about facts at all.
This is indeed true of most political arguments. Some allegedly practical people fail to realise this, and insist that they are going to make their minds up ‘on the evidence’. But evidence is seldom the issue. Where the questions are ones of fact, then of course there can ultimately be no argument. Facts are facts, and there you are. But even then, there are lots of facts, and people often have their own preferred collection. Facts about our history certainly can be, and often have been, misrepresented. Absurd allegations are made about past events, previous full and final settlements are concealed, and all the rest.
But, now that the latest round of ‘full and final settlements’ is over, claims about what did and did not happen in the past, arguments over facts, have ~ for the time being, anyway ~ largely subsided. The arguments we are involved in now are not over facts, but over definitions ~ for example, who is a ‘Maori’? They are over values ~ which is more important, democratic government or the new racism? They are over costs and benefits ~ should iwi leaders are enriched at the public expense? They are over our beliefs about the future ~ is the new apartheid leading us towards a happier, more cohesive state? Even if there were public sympathy for continuing Maori claims, will we in future be prosperous enough to satisfy them?
The predictions about the future are really important. I know I have often said this before, but it bears repeating ~ during the most recent round of full and final settlements we were constantly assured that after those settlements we could put the past behind us and finally move forward as one nation. You and I predicted that this would not happen, and we were absolutely right. Now we face claims for water, air, wildlife, and for sovereignty itself. Our every act of generosity is simply followed by another demand. We have no assurance that even current demands are the last word. Grant them, and further demands will follow. To be frank, we would be fools if we were to believe any of the assurances of iwi leaders that this or that demand is the very last one. I am irresistibly reminded of Herr Hitler, claiming on several occasions that this or that was his ‘last territorial demand in Europe’. I have heard one iwi leader say that dealing with the government ~ with us ~ is like a very slow game of poker ~ one in which you only ever play one card at a time.
The arguments we are having now are about definitions, values, costs and benefits, and assessments of what the future might hold. The arguments are about principles, not facts. It follows, therefore, that these are arguments in which we can all participate. No detailed special knowledge such as I may possess is really necessary. Is our country to be a democracy in future, or is it to be a state where racial ancestry gives immensely disproportionate influence to one small minority? That is a question we are all qualified to answer.
The arguments, in short, are just the same familiar old arguments we have long been having with our greedy racist protagonists and their useful idiot supporters in the bureaucracy and education system. I must admit to a certain sense of boredom whenever I am called upon to respond to the latest preposterous claim, because there is nothing new to reply to, only the same old claims of special entitlement and veiled threats repeated ad nauseam. In framing my replies I cannot help but think that I am really in the same situation as Elizabeth Taylor’s eighth husband on their wedding night. He knew what to do, but he didn’t know how to make it interesting….
And so to business; and our business now is just to apply a few of these simple general principles to a recent speech made by the current ‘Maori King’, Tuheitia Paki. I think it is about time we started putting that phrase in quotation marks. Who is he? His ‘kingship’ has no constitutional or legal status. As far as the law is concerned, the king is just Mr Paki, a New Zealand citizen and the Queen’s subject like anyone else. Nor, even nominally, is he the king of all Maori ~ as many Maori are the very first to insist. Many in Nga Puhi evidently refer to him as the ‘King of Huntly’! He is the chief of the Tainui tribe and sundry other tribes of the Waikato and ‘King country’, and the descendant of Potatau Te Wherowhero, in whose time the King movement and the King country were established and defined. The King movement was a powerful force in its time, and one valued by many Maori, but no institution can survive just by resting on its laurels.
The current king recently made a speech which has been widely considered to be somewhat foolish. It hit the headlines chiefly because of his statement of support for the Maori Party and his promise never again to support the Labour Party. He alleged that this was in response to a Labour statement that Labour would never work with the Maori Party, but so far it has proven impossible to discover any such statement.
Queen Elizabeth, of course, does not meddle in day to day politics, and we would all be greatly offended if she did. The Maori King’s situation is a bit different, given that he represents only one small sectional interest, but this particular bit of meddling, anyway, may not serve even that interest. His announcement appears to be based on a very basic mistake of fact, in that Labour has evidently never said that it would not work with the Maori Party. It also appears to be evidence of a struggle between factions within the King movement. Tuku Morgan has moved on from his underpants days, and is now not only a friend of and advisor to the king, but also the new president of the Maori Party. However Nanaia Mahuta ~ the niece of the previous occupant of the throne (Queen Te Atairangikahu), a member of the chiefly family and often rumoured to have aspirations to royalty ~ is a Labour Party Member of Parliament. The ‘king’ said in his speech that while his ‘senior official’ Tuku Morgan was president of a political party he himself stayed ‘static and neutral’. Queen Elizabeth, however, insists on the political neutrality of her own household staff, and it is a strange sort of neutrality to announce that one political party is your enemy.
We can bypass these struggles, although news of them may raise some intriguing possibilities as to the Labour Party’s future Treaty policies. There is no doubt that Helen Clark’s Labour government displayed much more commitment to racial equality and the common good than does our present government. Labour’s Foreshore and Seabed Act attempted to restore something like the status quo that existed before the Court of Appeal’s disgraceful political decision in the Ngati Apa case. John Key’s National government repealed that Act and replaced it with a seriously objectionable one. National, not Labour, signed us up to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a declaration that contradicts the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at every turn. Who knows? If Labour is liberated from its thraldom to Maori interests ~ if it no longer runs after the Maori seats, or even if it just considers that Maori Labour voters are reasonable people who recognise the necessity of national unity and that state assistance should be on the basis of need and not race ~ then we may be getting somewhere. But that is all speculation about the remote future, and although I would hope, I would not hold my breath…..
But leaving the party political aspects to one side, the ‘Maori King’s’ speech contains some very divisive rhetoric which can only serve to promote unrealistic expectations and inflame racial animosities.
Tuheitia is demanding ‘shared sovereignty’. ‘Maori’ ~ and once more, we must press for some definition as to who exactly ‘Maori’ are ~ should have a ‘shared role’ in sovereignty, and Tuheitia wants them to have this by 2025.
Now in fact Maori have a shared role in sovereignty now. Do not be alarmed; we all have a shared role in sovereignty now. Although the arrangement is one with very respectable historical and philosophical antecedents, it is evidently one with which this tribal chieftain and ‘king’ is unfamiliar. It certainly seems not to be to his taste. The arrangement is called ‘voting’. The basic idea is that every adult, of whatever race, sex, or religion, is considered to be equal before the law and entitled to an equal say in determining who shall guide the nations’s affairs. Sovereignty is ultimately vested in the people, and the people share that sovereignty and exercise it by voting for representatives to make laws and govern them. The political system is then described ~ with more or less accuracy, depending on the details of your particular country and your point of view ~ as ‘democratic’.
But this is not Tuheitia’s desire. He desires a formally-defined ‘share’ for Maori in New Zealand’s sovereignty. He is obviously dissatisfied with the present share, which is the share that ‘Maori’ are entitled to as a proportion of the population. Although he did not say so, it is very difficult to believe that he would be happy with any share of less than 50%. 50% representation for about 15% of the population.
So ~ so much for democracy. ‘Shared’ sovereignty ~ you and I will continue to pay our taxes and otherwise obey the laws; but we will have far less say in how those laws are made and how those taxes are spent. We will not be completely powerless, not instantly, anyway; but if ‘Maori’, by one constitutional device or another, have a 50% share in decision-making, then we will have less representation than we are entitled to in decision-making, and they will have more, and what will be the inevitable result? Three guesses are unnecessary. At present we abide by the ancient principle of ‘no taxation without representation’. We have always thought that to mean ‘no taxation without equal representation’. Tuheitia wants it merely to mean, in our case, that there should be ‘no taxation without some representation’. That is completely unacceptable.
Unsurprisingly, the alleged Treaty principle of ‘partnership’ has never involved any giving by the Maori ‘partner’, only taking. The rest of the country does the work and provides the money; the ‘Treaty partner’ just sits back and decides on how to spend it. Just imagine ‘iwi leaders’ having a 50% say with our elected government as to where and how our money is to be spent. Never would the old joke be truer, that ‘iwi’ simply stands for ‘I want it’.
And , of course, once this principle, that race trumps equality and human rights, is accepted, why should it not be extended further? Why should we accept that even a demand for 50:50 shared sovereignty is the last word? Why would you believe that? There have been enough other utterly untruthful assurances about last full and final demands and settlements. There is, after all, a specious argument that the magical amazing all-powerful Treaty did not cede sovereignty to the Crown at all, and that really, Maori should still be completely in charge. Why would that not be the next item of news, after this befuddled hereditary chieftain and his rich fat brown mates have got a formal 50% share of sovereignty? Give people an inch, and they take an ell. Once you have paid him the Danegeld, you never get rid of the Dane.
This Maori ‘king’ wants to divide our country even further. He said in his speech that he sees ‘a voting constituency of Maori across the country that will exceed 65% of the general population that identify as Maori’. I struggled for some time to work out exactly what this sentence might mean. I think he is referring to the many New Zealanders of Maori descent who are putting dark old racist and tribal ways behind them and joining their fellow-citizens as equals in our national life. I think Tuheitia means that he would like to see at least 65% of these New Zealanders going back to supporting his racist parties and policies.
Right now, every single party in Parliament, with the sole exception of United Future ~ if that could be described as a party, and not just a one man band ~ has Members of Parliament of Maori descent. Even leaving aside the MPs in the Maori seats, there are still sixteen MPs of Maori descent. For National, these are Paula Bennett, Simon Bridges, Hekia Parata, Nuk Korako, Shane Reti and Jami-Lee Ross. New Zealand First has Winston Peters, Ron Mark, Darroch Ball, Ria Bond, Pita Paraone and Fletcher Tabuteau. The Greens have Metiria Turei and Marama Davidson. ACT has David Seymour. The Maori Party has Marama Fox, who is a list MP.
Interestingly, Labour’s MPs of Maori descent are only to be found in the Maori seats.
But despite such generous Maori representation in Parliament at present, and despite the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform which recommended that the Maori seats should be abolished as being no longer necessary after proportional representation, Rino Tirikatene, the Labour MP for Te Tai Tonga, is currently proposing a bill which would ‘entrench’ the Maori seats ~ that is to say, to amend the Electoral Act so as to add the Maori seats to those other half dozen provisions of the Act which cannot be repealed by Parliament in the usual way, by a 51% majority, but only by a greater Parliamentary majority or with the approval of voters in a referendum. Given the challenges presented by such a mode of amendment, the effect of entrenchment is that an entrenched provision is more or less there for ever.
I am not quite sure what stage this bill is at; whether it has even been drawn in the Private Members’ ballot. It would be disastrous for our country if it were to be enacted. It might well, who can say, even be disastrous for the Labour Party. It is all of the same ilk as the ‘Maori King’s’ separatism. We are to be two nations, always hostile to each other, forever. Hobson’s remark at the signing of the Treaty was ‘He iwi tahi tatou’ ~ ‘Now we are one people’ . The maxim of these people appears to be ‘Two people, one Treaty’.
Incredibly, after all of this, the Maori ‘king’ said several things which are not only very sensible but which also undercut everything he had said previously. He called on Maori leaders to play a ‘large part’ in resolving such issues as ‘the homeless; poverty; the preservation of te reo and culture; building homes; drug abuse and crime organisations around the importation, manufacture and distribution of drugs; the reduction of crime in general; the poor health state of Maori; the challenges of our prison population and the reintegration of prisoners back into society; and the lack of long-term jobs’.
Yes indeed. The government cannot do everything; and it can do next to nothing without the cooperation and willingness of those it is trying to help. Maori themselves have to be the major part of any solutions. Yet the solutions to nearly all these problems must, at base, involve Maori accommodating themselves to a modern world that is not going to go away, and ceasing to live by old grievances, real or imagined, and the belief that the world somehow owes them a living. This will require a major effort, and I am not certain that all of Maoridom will be up to that effort. Indeed, I do not blame them for not wanting to; quite apart from the effort, the modern world is not a pleasant place in many ways, and I myself try to have as little to do with it as possible. But reality must be faced.
Some parts of his prescription are simply impossible; the Maori language, for example, will continue to decline, and all efforts to save it will be in vain. Maori ‘culture’ will evolve, as living cultures do, and as it intertwines with and cross-fertilises New Zealand’s other cultural strands, old and new, it will inevitably leave its traditional roots and become less specifically ‘Maori’.
Maori, like the rest of us, cannot stand still. Their choice is between rising and falling; between joining with the rest of New Zealand in the great adventure of our future, or sinking even lower into the mire of misery that the ‘king’ describes.
Tuheitia is half right, then; and half very wrong.